Down with the cult of Two Thin Coats!

A little while ago, I was having a game of Warmachine in the basement of my FLGS and a woman approached me asking for some painting advice. She had been using the traditional Duncan-style approach of base coat, wash, and dry brush, and she was starting to butt up against the limits of this technique. So, I showed her a few tricks with wet blending, glazing and inks, as well as sent her a link to Vince Venturella’s youtube channel because he is better at this than me, and it was like a revelation. In a very short time, she had greatly improved her techniques and started pumping out much nicer looking space marines.

The Duncan Way

If you are like most of us, you were probably taught to paint miniatures in the Games Workshop tabletop style, popularized by Duncan, the friendly host of Warhammer TV’s Tip of the Day. In this style, after assembly and priming with official Citadel brand spray primer, step one is to lay down an opaque base coat, always using two thin coats to make sure it is smooth and coverage is nice. Next, follow up with a wash to tint the shadows and some dry brushing to bring up the highlights. If you want to get fancy, throw on an edge highlight. Do a little basing, and you’ve got a perfectly acceptable space marine.

 

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Hey Duncan, I hope that isn’t paint water…

There is a reason Duncan teaches us to paint this way: it’s easy to teach. It’s not hard for complete newbies with no artistic training at all to understand that they should paint the blue parts blue then wash and dry brush. It’s all done in very discrete, easy to understand steps. Paint with A, wash with B, and dry brush with C. Conveniently, GW is happy to sell you paints A, B, and C.

Unfortunately, there are some issues with this approach. First, it works better on some models than others. For dirty skeletons where there is a lot of texture in the ribcage, you can get good results. However, if you try it out on a model with a lot of smooth armour plates, you can easily end up in coffee stain city. It is also a very limiting technique; it is very hard to progress beyond a certain point using only these techniques, and basically impossible to scale up to something like a bust.

Finally, it can be time consuming. Getting a smooth, uniform base coat where you stay within all the lines is difficult and involves a lot of very careful fine motor control. Particularly challenging is when you start trying to paint tricky to reach areas like armpits and the backs of shields, and you want to get a perfect base coat

Then, of course, you have to do it all again because two thin coats. And often two thin coats is a best case scenario; if you didn’t plan ahead and are now trying to paint yellow straight over black primer, you’re going to be at it all day.

And all of that headache and frustration over poor paint coverage for what? A perfectly smooth, uniform base coat that you’re immediately going to coffee stain with washes and then dry brush over?

In short, while this approach is easy to teach and easy to understand, it is often not the best approach both from the perspective of speed or quality in the long run. And while it might seem like I’m ragging on Duncan, that isn’t my intention. He has three jobs, all of which he is very good at:

  1. Show customers who are completely new to painting and modelling and have zero artistic background how to turn boxes of sprues into a tabletop-ready army that looks decent from a distance,
  2. Motivate them to get their armies painted through the use of instructional videos and a positive attitude, and
  3. Sell Games Workshop products
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It is possible that the above list is not in descending order of priority.

 

Why some people hate painting

The problem comes when new painters have the “basecoat, wash, drybrush” style beaten into their heads and it becomes gospel. They are never told that there is a whole world of techniques out there such as blending, glazing and the use of products like inks and mediums. Or, they are vaguely aware that they exist but think they are a bunch of very time-consuming super pro level techniques that they shouldn’t even bother trying because they are far beyond what they want to do for tabletop quality.

This right here is why I think a lot of people get frustrated with painting and feel it to be a chore. They struggle to get that perfectly smooth, opaque base coat, particularly when they are using weakly pigmented paints. That ends up being not only time consuming, but also less enjoyable of a process, particularly when you are on the ninth coat of red and it still won’t look right. And the end result is often less satisfying than they would like because of the limitations of this method.

And by clinging to this approach even when it isn’t appropriate out of either fear or ignorance, a lot of people out there are making painting more difficult than it has to be and sucking the fun out of what is an otherwise enjoyable hobby.

The Alternatives

There are a couple alternatives to this approach. Games Workshop being Games Workshop, they have developed a whole new line of paint for you to buy that promises to use magical paint chemistry to do it all in one step. There is also the sketch style popularized by people like Banshee and Matt DiPietro, where one starts with a zenithal prime, refines the value sketch, then covers everything with inks and glazes to tint it the appropriate colour.

Personally, my usual approach when not using my airbrush is to wet blend my base coat, doing base coating, shading and highlighting all in one step. This process starts with a zenithal prime. Airbrush or rattle can; doesn’t matter. You can even get a pseudo-zenithal by dry brushing the lighter colour on with a large makeup brush and focusing on where the light will hit the miniature. If you have an airbrush, you can also play with tinted zenithals. Perhaps you want some cool shadows and warm highlights, so you can make the shadows blue and the highlights ivory.

The zenithal does a couple things. First, it gives you an idea of where to place your highlights and shadows, so even if you aren’t confident with light placement, you can just follow the zenithal and get a decent result. Second, this preshading helps make the highlights brighter and the shadows darker. With the dark parts already dark and the light parts already light, you don’t have the sort of issues that you get when trying to paint a vibrant red highlight over black primer and wondering why it still doesn’t pop after seventeen coats of red.

Finally, this liberates you from having to do these smooth, opaque coats. If your paint is a little on the thin side and doesn’t have great coverage, that’s not an issue – it just means that the preshading from the zenithal will be more effective.

Paint like Bob Ross

Now it’s time to do some wet blending. Wet blending is simply the process of pushing multiple colours of wet paint around on the miniature itself to get shadows, highlights and other colour transitions. It is a technique that a lot of canvas painters like Bob Ross use when doing oil paints — how often have you seen him drop in some paint, clean his brush, beat the devil out of it, then blend his paint on the canvas or fluff some clouds?

If this is your first time wet blending, I’d recommend doing some practice. Get out your wet palette (if you don’t have one, make one), and pick out some colours ranging from your deepest shadow to your highest highlight. I recommend P3 Coal Black, Sanguine Base, and Sanguine Highlight if you have them. Also, grab a bit of flow improver; this helps the paint flow, making your blends smoother and giving you a bit more working time. Play around with it on the palette a little to get a feel for it; try to take a dot of paint and draw it into a dot of a different colour, getting a smooth gradient between the two.

Now that you’ve done that, you can practice on something like a base or a piece of primed plastic. Put a bit of one colour on, quickly rinse your brush, put down the other colour next to it, and use the brush to mix them in the middle to create a smooth transition from one colour into the other. As you get comfortable, try adding more colours — perhaps do a three colour blend from a shadow colour into a base and all the way into your highlight, or try to do a smooth blend from shadow to highlight and back to shadow. Then, once you are comfortable with that, pick up a model, figure out where the shadows and highlights go, and repeat the process only on a model this time.

Congratulations, you are now wet blending. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Or, if you can’t parse my written instructions, go check out Vince Venturella’s video on the subject because, again, Vince is better than me at this.

This is a great technique as it is one of the fastest ways to lay down colours in a fairly smooth gradient. It’s not going to be perfect, but remember, we’re just going for good tabletop quality. Of course, if we want to take it further, we can — my display projects often start with some quick wet blends to lay in some colours and from there it is mostly a matter of refining it, smoothing out those blends and adding detail. For example, Boudicca‘s red hair and green cloak both started with a quick wet blend, and well…

But for something like tabletop, Hutchuck here is a good example of what you can do with some quick wet-blends. While I did wash some areas in order to emphasize the shadows in the folds and creases of his leather belts and Liefeldian number of pouches, and I do have some more work to do to add a little more weathering, OSL and metallics, this is what a quick wet blend with a little edge highlighting and darklining can get you.

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How many huts could Hutchuck chuck if Hutchuck could chuck huts?

As you do this more, you will find that some colours work better than others. Ironically, it is the opaque colours and that will give you the most trouble, because these colours tend to end up being a little chalky, especially if they have a lot of white in the highlights. Capes are one of the best things to practice on when you are just starting out because they tend to have a lot of intricate folds that react with the light in interesting ways. If you are impatient when it comes to waiting for your paint to dry, a hairdryer will take care of that real fast. Finally, always try to use the biggest brush you can get away with — a big brush with a fat belly holds more paint and lets you blend over larger areas with fewer strokes.

Oh, as for the areas that are hard to reach like the backs of shields, where people obsess over painting the back of the shield, the arm, and the straps all in their proper colours, all within the lines, before slathering it in Nuln Oil? Forget about them! These areas are usually shadowed, so just stuff some of your deepest shadow colour down in there and blend outwards into your base colours. You don’t need to obsess over details in shaded areas; in fact it makes a lot of sense from the perspective of composition and colour theory that shaded areas should convey less visual information. Take a look at some of Caravaggio’s paintings and look at all the detail and visual information he put in the shadows. There’s not much; it looks like the dude just threw down some dark colours and called it a day. And if he can get away with it on paintings that sell for millions of dollars 400 years after his death, you can get away with it on your space marines.

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That’s not Nuln Oil in the top left corner

But this sounds hard!

Yes, blending requires a bit of skill. You need to know some basics of colour theory and light placement in order to pick out the appropriate colours and know where on the model to put them. Also, you need to be able work quickly so you have time to push paint around on the model before it dries. But, it is a skill where a little time investment up front can pay huge dividends because you are getting multiple steps done with a few brush strokes. When I throw down a quick wet-blended basecoat, I’ve often got base colour, highlights and shadows done by the time the person doing the Duncan method is finishing his first thin coat. And it looks better too.

Admittedly, brush control is a thing, but with a little practice, just about anyone can do this and get good at it. Case in point, I have no formal art training and am not special in any way and I can do it.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to miniature painting, there are many different approaches and techniques. While the traditional Games Workshop style is effective in some cases, whether you paint for display or just for tabletop, if you don’t go beyond that, you won’t have a lot of tools. And when you find out the hard way that it is hard to turn a screw with a hammer, that can cause a lot of frustration and resentment.

Also, we need to seriously rethink how we teach new people how to paint. I get it, explaining colour theory and light placement to someone who is touching a paint brush for the first time is hard. But if all we teach them is to follow the Duncan way, then we risk boxing them in. Everyone can benefit from more tools in their toolbox, even if all you want to do is put an army on the table.

And then, hopefully, together, we can defeat the grey hordes.

 

Bonus Content: First Mate Hawk

YARRRRRR! First Mate Hawk be keeping ye salty dogs in check.

This was an interesting experiment with resin pours, to see if I could get a fish floating around in the water. Resin pours are all about the formwork; to be successful, you need to get something that is smooth-sided and has no leaks. So, I made the form by cutting up a pill bottle that was roughly the size I wanted, then taped it down to the base with some of the Tamiya tape — the white stuff for curves, not the yellow stuff. Since I wanted to have Hawk standing on a dock, I used a styrene tube to represent one of the posts. The dock itself was scratchbuilt out of plasticard, with a rod extending down that would fit snugly into the tube I used for the post.

To ensure the resin pour went well, I did the first couple of millimetres with Vallejo’s acrylic air-drying water texture. The idea here was that if I did have a leak, I would be able to fix it before finding it late in the process when my resin starts leaking out and ruins the project. Also, any potential cracks between the formwork and the base would be sealed in with this stuff, ensuring I get a clean pour.

My strategy paid off. I ended up doing about half the pour, placing my fish, letting it settle in nicely, then slowly and carefully so as not to disturb the fish, finish the pour. Once it dried, I broke off the forms and then did a second pour to fill the meniscus. In the meantime, I had finished painting Hawk and the dock and was able to glue them together, clean up the joint, and call it finished.

The Skill Wall and Display vs. Army Painting

When I started painting miniatures and figures, it was for gaming. I had a bit of a false start with Reaper’s first Bones kickstarter, but eventually I got hooked by way of a Warmachine starter set I got for Christmas one year. However, as I’ve moved more and more into display painting and away from just painting for games, I’ve started to notice some differences between army painting and display painting.

The skill wall

One of the concepts I have been thinking about in my display painting has been a “skill wall.” This is a point where you look at a model and, even if it isn’t perfect, you don’t have the skills to really do anything to it which will actually improve the model. At that point, you are best to call it done because any further work is just futzing around with it for little to no actual improvement.

To use an analogy, think of the skill wall as a physical barrier that you are trying to run towards. As you get better at running, you learn to run both faster (representing how fast you can put paint on a model) and farther (representing how good the final product looks). A painting competition is measuring the distance you go, and it is up to you to take it all the way as far as you can. We all eventually hit that wall, but if you want to win, you need to drag yourself to the outer edge of your skill and not just say “meh, good enough.”

When you are just starting out, I would argue that you should push yourself to the max with every model. Let’s face it, all of us when we started barely knew how to get the paint onto the model. In the previous analogy, we were the equivalent of a 500 pound man huffing and wheezing as we struggled to waddle the 100 metre dash. At that point, you need all the exercise you can get. But as we practice and get in shape, we can go both farther and faster. Maybe after a month of training, our skill wall is 200 metres from the start line, but we can now jog 200 metres in half the time it previously took us to waddle 100 metres.

Ideally, as people who paint armies and hordes for games, as we paint more and more, we are both getting better at painting and getting faster as we learn the basics of brush control and all sorts of little tips, tricks and techniques to speed our work. We start producing better work, but it doesn’t take that much longer (and may even take less time) because we now paint faster as well. We might even find some shortcuts like using airbrushes, sketch style or contrast paints to take a different route which gets us better results faster.

However, once you start doing some serious display painting, things start to change. Eventually, you end up in a situation where, even though you have the brush control techniques to paint relatively quickly, your capabilities are so advanced that you could spend dozens of hours on a single model and not even hit your skill wall yet. But since dozens of hours per model times dozens of models in your army equals an unrealistic amount of time, the approach of always pushing yourself to the max on every single model may start to get problematic at some point.

Basically, at some point, no matter how good of a runner you are, it will still take a while to do a marathon.

From a practical perspective, since there are only so many hours in the day, you end up having to do one of two things when you are army painting. First, you start looking for techniques that save time rather than improve quality. You might do some sketch style or try out new airbrush techniques instead of slowly and carefully layering highlights. Second, you have to start saying “good enough” at some point, and this is where the whole concept of “tabletop quality” starts to come in (even though “tabletop standard” is kind of a confusing concept).

That sounds bad, but in the context of painting an entire army, it really isn’t. Yes, no individual model from your army will win a best single model painting competition (except maybe a centerpiece model you have kicked up to a higher standard), however that isn’t the point of army painting. To paraphrase Stalin, quantity has a quality of its own. A large decently-painted army with some uniformity in sculpts, colours and basing schemes, some nice pop on the highlights, and maybe a couple really nice centerpiece models looks rad as hell, even if random dude with spear number 37 isn’t the most impressive model.

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Pictured: Two small, rad-as-hell looking armies

All about the base

One other big difference between painting for a game and painting for display is the question of bases. In many wargames, base size serves an important gameplay purposes and measurements are made from the base. In Warmachine, this is a particular issue because tournament play requires round-lipped bases, which I am not really a fan of because the lip seems to take up a large portion of the area available for basing, and there are fewer third party scenic bases available than there are for the traditional GW style angle-lipped bases.

Gaming bases are generally pretty simple and utilitarian, often consisting of a flat plastic base with maybe a touch of simple texture or other scenic elements on top. There is an incentive not to build up too much height on their bases because taller models means they take up more room in your army transport bag, and it can get difficult at times to lug armies around to games.

Display painters often like to put their models on fancy plinths, which both looks nice and serves a practical purpose – where wargamers tend to handle their models by the model itself, display painters often don’t varnish their pieces and don’t want to touch them, so a nice plinth can serve as a convenient handle for when you do need to put them on the contest table.

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An early attempt at an almost-display level model that I could game with, before I started doing real display models. Note how the arc markings on the base are distracting from the model. This was basically my skill wall at the time.

In games such as Warmachine, there is also an issue with facing and arc marking. Since you are strongly encouraged to mark facings on your bases, this can become an issue because these markings can draw attention away from the model and towards the usually high contrast markings on the rim of the base. A plain black rim just looks better as it doesn’t draw attention away from the model and gives some nice separation between the table and the scenery on the base. This is why, in spite of encouraging players to paint arc markings on their bases, Privateer Press has plain black rims in all of their box art.

Finally, there can be practical issues with overly scenic bases. Games featuring true line of sight, where line of sight is measured to the model itself, can cause issues. It can be hard for your awesome character model to take cover behind a wall if he is permanently standing on top of a pile of the corpses of his vanquished enemies. In other games such as Warmachine, players tend to place an extremely high value on precision movement, so things like overhang and fancy, elevated basing can cause frustration. If you are trying to do something display-like that you still want to game with, the demands of the game can compromise your artistic vision.

Simply put, a gaming base looks underwhelming in a painting contest, and a nice plinth wouldn’t work on the gaming table. While you can sometimes get away with using the same bases, you eventually get to a point where you need to decide if you are going to use a piece for gaming or as a display piece and go one way or the other.

Varnish and protecting your paint

Finally, we get into one of the biggest differences between painting for a game and painting for display. Game models are meant to be touched and handled, display models generally aren’t.

This means a few things. First, display models can sometimes incorporate small, fiddly details that would be unsuitable for the sort of rough handling that a gaming model goes through, between transport and gaming. As one example, I saw a model of a tank for one of the WW2 combat games that came with two main guns – one to the proper scale, and a thicker one for gamers because the proper scale gun is too fragile for tabletop gaming.

And, we have to get into varnish. Since gamers tend to handle their minis a lot, they tend to appreciate thick coats of varnish. While I’m not sure to what extent the varnish actually protects the miniature (I would think primer adhesion would be a bigger culprit for chipping),

Unfortunately, when you are painting for display, a varnish can change the finish in ways that you don’t intend. Obviously, a matte varnish will destroy the shine of your metallics (do I really need to explain this one?). You can rescue it somewhat with a gloss varnish overtop, but it still won’t quite be the same as if you left your metallics in their natural state.

However, even with regular, non-metallic paints, a varnish can slightly change the finish of the paint in ways that you don’t expect. As a result, it is common for display painters to address this problem by leaving their models unvarnished, and simply not touch them, as they are not willing to risk sacrificing their hard work on getting the blends perfect only to have it be messed with by a varnish.

What does this all mean?

While they are very similar skills and incorporate similar techniques, I believe that army painting and display painting are different enough that we should recognize and celebrate both. There are people who aren’t going to win a painting competition because their skill wall isn’t far enough out yet. These people either don’t want to make the jump into display-only painting (especially when they are staring down a bunch of space marines they need painted for the next tournament) or they simply aren’t skilled enough yet to seriously compete. However, they can field very nice armies thanks to patience, practice and perseverance.

When it comes to wargaming, I’m a big advocate of rewarding and incentivising all aspects of the hobby. There is an attitude in some circles that tournaments are about game mastery and painting competitions are about display painting and never the twain shall meet in order to protect the sanctity of both. However, I feel this attitude is wrong-headed because it leaves out the army painters – the sort of people who may not have the skills to be competitive at something like Crystal Brush, but who have the perseverance to play it painted and to produce nice looking armies.

On the tournament side, this can be done in a variety of ways; some combination of best painted army awards, paint scores, or bonuses or raffles for fielding a fully painted army could work. On the display side, I think events like GW’s Armies on Parade are a neat way to allow army painters to showcase their work, compete, and get some recognition for a job well done. Space permitting, things like this could be incorporated into painting competitions, which would give army painters an opportunity to mingle with display painters and pick up some skills.

Final thoughts

While display and army painting involve a lot of similar skills, there are a number of significant differences that make them not always the same. However, that is not to devalue or diminish army painting; the patience and perseverance involved in painting an army is not unlike that of bringing a single model up to a very high display standard. And both should be rewarded and celebrated.

 

Bonus content: French Cruiser De Grasse

One of the raffle prizes I snagged at TorCan was a Heller 1:1400 scale kit of the French cruiser De Grasse. Construction started on this ship before World War II, and in the chaos of the war and the Fall of France, plans for the hull changed a number of times before it was finally finished as an anti-aircraft cruiser in 1956.

The kit itself was not very big and was showing its age. Instructions came on a single sheet of yellowed paper, and no decals were supplied. I ended up struggling to get the two halves of the hull and the deck in place properly, which caused a number of issues with seam lines. Most of the painting was relatively simple, with the exception of the helicopter landing pad at the rear which I painted onto the deck by hand. I used brass rod to fashion a pair of flagpoles at the front and back, each flying tiny French flags made of little squares of aluminum foil, and since I couldn’t find my ez-line, used one of my own hairs for the rigging.

Also, even though it makes no sense, I painted the plaque on the front using TMM shading because… reasons?

Polishing a turd: The PZL.23 Karas

So, I’ve been dipping my toe a little bit into other forms of hobbying as of late. Aside from a couple gundam kits that I’ve bashed out, I decided to try my hand at model airplane building, partly to try something new and partly because it’s what all the cool kids at the IPMS were doing. So, with the idea of doing a quick weekend project to practice before I start on an $80 kit, I pulled out a box off the shelf and…

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Oh, dear.

The kit

The PZL.23 Karas is one of the more esoteric aircraft of World War II. A Polish single-engined ground attack plane, it was roughly equivalent to the Fairey Battle or the Breda Ba.65 in that it was a very advanced aircraft for its day, but it was a little outdated by the time the war rolled around and had been outpaced by more modern aircraft. Still, in the hands of the Polish, it put up what resistance it could against the German war machine. Notably, it was a PZL.23B which made the first bombing raid of the war within German territory, and captured examples would go on to be used in small numbers by the Romanians as well as in second-line duties with the Bulgarians.

As the title alludes to, this kit is kind of a turd by modern standards. Looking at Scalemates, I can see that this was a 1980s rebox of a kit originally produced in 1964. There are only about twenty parts and they are made from a cheap, crappy plastic. It has raised panel lines, and there are a lot of areas where details are extremely lacking. The interior detail is nonexistent, with only three seats (and no locating tabs to know where to put them), and no dashboards, controls, etc. Rivet counters could probably find dozens of inaccuracies from the profile of the plane to the number of panel lines; I know I inadvertently found some when I was looking up paint schemes. Fortunately, I’m not a rivet counter, so I don’t care.

And, just to add insult to injury, the instructions were in Polish. Because of course they were.

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Okay, got it

My approach

I’ve picked up a lot of techniques for model aircraft by hanging around the local IPMS crew. However, while I knew I could do research and suss out the internet arguments of pre-shading versus black-basing and which one is the superior, more realistic technique that serious modellers use, part of me wanted to remain willfully ignorant of this for a couple reasons. First, this was just a practice piece for another project and the kit was so crappy that I knew this wasn’t going to be a masterpiece regardless. Second, I wanted to see what I could apply with my figure painting techniques to the art of scale aircraft building. I felt like instead of just copying what everyone else was doing and doing a bit worse of a job on it, I could go into it without any preconceived notions and see how it turns out.

So, this is in some ways an experimental piece – give a figure guy a model plane and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you’re only out the two bucks that this turd of a kit cost.

Assembly

While the kit may have not been the greatest, there were a couple things which were working in my favour. The main wing was moulded in two pieces – an upper and a lower piece which both ran the entire span of both wings. The upper mated to the fuselage, which had a cutout on the bottom for these parts to go together. This meant that alignment wouldn’t be too much of an issue; it would be hard for me to mess up the dihedral with how the kit was engineered. Additionally, this plane has no visible struts and the landing gear is fixed with a big, thick fairing, so there isn’t going to be any futzing around with spindly little landing gear legs and worrying about getting them at the correct angle, not to mention painting all the details inside the landing gear bays.

I managed to get it all together in one evening while consuming a copious amount of beer (though not so much that I would mess up the kit even worse than it was messed up coming out of the factoty or stab myself with an x-acto knife), though I left the propeller able to spin for now to make painting the cowling easier. It took a couple layers of apply and sanding milliput to fill seams and sculpt something a fairing between the horizontal stabilizer and the fuselage. Even after the second layer, it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for government work and I was getting antsy to start painting.

Priming

As mentioned, I’m a figure guy. So, that means I’m relatively ignorant of the eternal internet struggle between pre-shaders and black-basers, and firmly on the side of a good zenithal prime. So, I loaded up my Patriot 105 with some Stynylrez black and sprayed the entire model down, getting a nice coat on both the top and the bottom. From there, I cleaned out my airbrush and pulled out the Stynylrez white and fired from above and from the front. I focused on parts that are in direct sunlight and the leading edge of the wings, letting the primer fade into black on the underside and near the trailing edges of the wings and control surfaces.

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Primed with Stynylrez black…

This technique does two things. First, it helps me understand where the highlights and shadows should be on a model, which is critical in figure painting. An airbrush loaded with white primer coming in from above actually does a decent job of representing the sun’s rays landing on the model and illuminating the highlights while avoiding the shadows. Second, it preshades it for you, which can be useful in later steps. This can be done roughly with a black and a white rattle can as well, though I prefer the airbrush for the control and ease of use in my small apartment. Personally, I tend to push things a little more towards the white side than most people when I do a zenithal because I figure it’s easier to darken something later than lighten it.

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…and followed up with white from above

 

Paint time!

Okay, here’s where I can really polish this turd. I sprayed the underside with a more or less uniform layer of Vallejo Light Sea Grey then masked it off. To be honest, there isn’t that much interesting on the underside, just that light sea grey and some mottling, so I’ll focus the rest of this article on the upper surfaces. Anyways, according to my sources, the closest colour to what these things were actually painted in in Polish service is Vallejo Green Brown. So, I loaded my airbrush up with… a mixture of P3 Coal Black and Reaper MSP Pure Black?

Sure.

Fear not, there is a method to my madness. With an airbrush, it’s easiest to work from your darkest shadow to the highest highlight, as we did with our zenithal prime. And when it comes to painting green, you don’t want to shade it with just black and white. You want cool shadows and warm highlights, so you want to have it move towards the blue end of the spectrum in addition to getting darker in the shadows, and towards the yellow end of the spectrum in addition to getting lighter in the highlights. And Coal Black is this wonderful blue-green black colour that is darker and cooler than most greens and makes an excellent shadow colour, among many other uses.

So, I mixed up a mixture of mostly Coal Black with a bit of Pure Black to darken it up a little (because I’m all about exact mixtures), making sure to get it on the underside and in all the shadowed areas where there was more black than white primer.

Next, I washed out the airbrush and loaded it up with the Vallejo Green Brown which would be my base colour. Similar to when I did the white on the zenithal prime, I sprayed mainly from above and in the areas that wouldn’t be shadowed, painting most of the plane in this colour but leaving some shadowed areas. Finally, I added some yellow to the base colour and added some highlights. The highlights were focused in a few places — near the leading edges of the wings and stabilizers, along the top of the fuselage, and in an area on the side to emphasize the transition from the convex surface of the round fuselage to the concave transition into the upper cockpit area. I also sprayed some into the middle of the panels, particularly on the wings, in order to create a bit of modulation.

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Airbrushed the top; note the colours used in the background.

That was all well and good, but I kind of wanted to shade the panel lines as well. And, since I’m a figure guy, what do I immediately reach for when it’s time to shade something?

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Good old liquid talent…

That’s right, GW’s washes, or shades as they call them. But we aren’t going to brush them on because that would leave so much nasty coffee staining. We’re going to airbrush it.

I made myself a mixture of Athonian Camoshade, which is their olive drab sort of wash, and a bit of Nuln Oil to darken it (again, very scientific and exact proportions) in the cup of my Badger Krome and got to spraying. When spraying these washes, a very light touch on the trigger is very important – you want just enough that it will build up in the recesses and tint the surrounding area, but not spray enough over the model that it will start beading and coffee staining. If you aren’t confident in your trigger control, this may be a very good time to try out a trigger stop. I sprayed some of this in a random, mottled pattern to add a little bit of visual interest to the model. Then, I followed up by tracing some of the panel lines, which reinforced the modulation and shaded the panel lines, giving me what I thought was a nice effect.

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Addition of the shade

At some point, I decided that I should do something creative with the cockpit. Between the missing clear piece and the complete lack of any interior detail, this is where an elite scale modeller would either scratchbuild a bunch of tiny parts or spend a lot of money on aftermarket pieces to bling it out. I am not an elite scale modeller. I was missing a clear piece, and given the amount of detail on the average 1960s era Polish model kits, I knew if I painted over the cockpit, you wouldn’t be missing much.

So, my idea was to adapt a technique I used on figures for painting gemstones to do an opaque cockpit. I started by spraying the entire thing in a blue-black. From there, I used the edge of a business card as a mask and sprayed some lighter, more saturated blues into one of the lower corners of each pane of glass. I followed that up with an even lighter blue, so I had a transition from a dark blue at the top into a light blue at the bottom where the light would filter out of the cockpit.

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Cockpit airbrushed, will follow up with a brush

Details and Weathering

There were some details remaining to be picked out with the brush. First was adding some glints of light to the top area of the windows, opposite the lighter area, just to kick up the artistic glass effect. This was done with some sky blue and some P3 frostbite, and as the windows were flat, I made the glints corner-shaped.

From there, the engine, exhaust pipes, propellors, canopy framing, etc., were all done with a brush. And when it got time to apply markings, because I can’t do things the easy way, I decided that instead of using the decals in the kit, I would bust out my trusty Raphael 8404 and brush paint those on, doing such detailed consultation of reference material as funding the first result on google image search that looked cool and easy to paint and running with it. I used panel lines for reference where I could to make sure that my markings somewhat approximated the proper scale and made sure to keep a steady hand. Most importantly, I double checked before putting down the red on the checkerboard roundels, because there is nothing worse than finishing a Polish roundel only to find that you’ve accidentally rotated it 90 degrees and now it’s all wrong. Also, I didn’t go all the way to white in the checkerboard patterns — a light grey is more than sufficient to make things read as white in this context, and it’s not as chalky and hard to apply as a pure white.

For weathering, it was important to keep it subtle. I did a little bit of sponge chipping in two layers; the first layer being some of the base colour mixed with white, and the second layer being some sort of midtone metallic silver. In this case, when you’re doing chipping, you need to think where to place your chips. And this is more than just where to cover your mistakes. Chipping on a plane is going to be concentrated in a few areas. It’s going to be on leading edges, on the front and underside of the cowling, and on the areas where the pilots are likely to step on as they climb into the plane. Weathering should tell a story, and these are the areas that are going to get beaten up the most.

Finally, I threw on a little Typhus Corrosion to represent dirt on the wheels and the spats, some light dry pigments to represent dust on the tires and landing gear, and some black dry pigment around and leading back from the exhaust pipe to represent soot. And with that, I was ready to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labour because I had turned this old kit into something that didn’t look half bad, at least not from a distance.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a detailed representation of a PZL 23A Karas, don’t buy this kit. In fact, I think at $2, I probably overpaid. There is a Heller version of this plane in 1/72nd scale that has been reboxed a few times which is less than 50 years old and not made behind the Iron Curtain, so I would assume it would have to be better than this thing.

However, while the detail is lacking in some areas and there are some obvious inaccuracies that I was too lazy to fix, overall, I’m not dissatisfied with how it turned out. It’s not a masterpiece, and it’s not meant to be. It’s a cheap, simple kit, painted up to look nice from about three feet away – which is the distance from which it will be looked at that 99% of the time when it’s not being torn apart by a nitpicky IPMS judge. So, I would say that my efforts to apply figure painting techniques to scale model aircraft were mostly successful. I’m now feeling more confident in tackling the 109B I have in my stash… that is, I was until I saw the photoetch.

Bonus Content: Owlbear!

As I wrapped this thing up at a build day, I also worked on a quick speedpaint on a project a little closer to my roots: a Reaper Bones Owlbear in 30mm scale, with plenty of inks, washes and dry brushing to get it to a decent tabletop standard quickly. An Owlbear is exactly what it sounds like, and for the benefit of your sanity, try not to think of show that may have came to be. I’m using it for my Necromunda gang to represent a Khimerix, becuase when someone says “horrific gene-spliced abomination with sharp claws and a nasty bite,” I think Owlbear.

I call him Owl Dirty Bastard, leader of the Hoot Tang Clan.

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Sword and Brush 2018 – Retrospective

Well, it’s been almost a month since Sword and Brush, and I figured I should actually get this article out there before it fades too much from memory.

Sword and Brush, held annually in Toronto, is probably the largest and most premiere miniature and figure painting competition in Canada. This was my first time going, and also this year was the first time they have expanded to include some wargaming tournaments in the same room as the painting competition. The painting competition and miniature show took place basically all day on Saturday with tournaments running simultaneously, while Sunday was set aside for tournaments only.

In addition to the show and the tournaments, there were also vendors, raffles, classes, and a buy and sell table.

The Show

I didn’t get a whole lot of pictures, but the level of quality on display was nothing short of amazing. There was a great diversity of models on the table, from Napoleonics to fantasy to sci-fi. The vehicle categories were also a nice touch, particularly the TLAV that came away with the theme award. Without going into too much detail, here’s a dump of some stuff that I liked.

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Nemo bust from Privateer Press. Only problem is that Nemo is some Cygnaran jerkface.

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Nice tartan…

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Did someone say “busts”?

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What is this I don’t even…

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Cool black and white figures on a colour diorama

Classes

One of the planned classes this year had to be cancelled, however there were still two very good classes. James Craig did a class on weathering, showing off how to paint on chipping and scratches as well as fun tricks with chipping medium. Colin Arthurs did a class on sculpting where he went over every step in sculpting a Napoleonic figure. Both these classes were interesting, though I think I’m going to be trying out the weathering techniques in that class a lot sooner than I’m going to try to sculpt my own figures.

Tournaments

Most of the tournaments were for games that I didn’t play and didn’t have any models for, but the exception was Necromunda, which I’ve been getting into as of late. The initial idea was that “Necromunda by night” would be a little tournament, but after one incredibly long, bloody and brutal game, I think everyone was a little tired. I had a blast; lots of crazy things happened in the game such as my leader sniping out the opposing leader with a bolter before getting insta-killed by a mook with a needle rifle, and Jaana, my shotgun-wielding champion, punching someone to death who tried to sneak up behind her and shoot her in the back.

A big tip of the hat here goes to whoever provided terrain; with multi-level catwalks and plenty of cover, there was a lot of very impactful terrain on the table. The aesthetics of this sort of terrain is something that I tend to miss in Warmachine, which is my primary game and which is usually played with mousepads on a flat mat.

Convention haul

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I managed to pick up some interesting stuff, both by doing fairly well on raffles and by being a little bad and spending some money at the vendors and the buy and sell table.

First, I stopped at the Badger table and picked up a few things. I grabbed some of their Minitaire paints, which are a line of paints that I’ve been wanting to try but haven’t had the opportunity to yet. I haven’t used them very much yet, but they seem to shoot through the airbrush fairly well (which is to be expected from a paint line produced by an airbrush company) and, if you can pick them up at a con, are an insanely good deal on a dollars per milliliter basis. I also picked up some needle lubricant (protip: don’t store this next to your super glue; I almost had an airbrush maintenance disaster) and a high roller trigger for my Krome. If your Badger airbrush doesn’t come standard with this trigger like the Xtreme Patriot, then I would definitely recommending picking up one of these.

IMG_0773.JPGI also bought an International Brigade figure from the Spanish Civil War in 75mm scale from Bent Bristle Miniatures. The Spanish Civil War is a perhaps unappreciated conflict, and the various international volunteers who went to Spain to fight for socialism and democracy are all too often forgotten in their home countries. So, this was one rare case where a historical figure really jumped out at me and demanded that I fork over some money and paint it.

On the buy and sell table, I picked up a giant resin inn to use as a piece of terrain, which is quite possibly the largest chunk of resin I’ve ever seen. Also, there was a Bombardier Bombshell from Privateer Press on the table which I bought because of course I did.

Finally, I did pretty good in the raffles, coming away with a Cerberus model from Aradia Miniatures, and a piece of a saloon from Pegaso Models for use on a display base. The Cerberus is far from my usual jam as I tend to shy away from more beastly figures, but it could be an interesting project. As for the saloon, I’m going to have to find a 75mm scale steampunk wild west model for this thing, which, let’s face it, is probably something that I want to do anyways.

My results

I entered into three categories this year. Amy Johnson went into their historical category, and both my pile of new Man-O-War solos and Necromunda gang ended up in the wargaming unit category. Finally, I put about six or seven models into the fantasy category because that’s my focus.

As mentioned above, when they do the judging, you only get awards for what they consider to be your best models. I managed to come away with two silvers, for my Mary Read and Amy Johnson busts, respectively, and a bronze for my Man-O-War.

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I know I say a lot that you shouldn’t worry about how you place compared to others or chase trophies, but I was quite happy with my results. With all the amazing stuff on display, I ended up doing that thing where you put your stuff on the table, then worry that your stuff is worse than everyone else’s and you’re just embarrassing yourself. Turns out that was just self-hating artist talk. Silver is good, especially for a first time. It’s something to be proud of, but also leaves some room for growth.

Conclusion

Sword and Brush was a blast. Anyone who is interested in miniature and figure painting and who is within driving distance should definitely go. Even if you don’t think you’re good enough yet, then go and learn because with this level of competition, there’s no shame in going home empty-handed.

Happy Accidents and fun with water effects

Bob Ross was known to say that in painting, we don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents. Recently, I had a hobby experience that really drove that point home when working on my Swamp Siren model, and that reminded me just how hard it is to actually mess something up in this hobby.

The model

The Swamp Siren was the first model from MiniCrate, Privateer Press’ monthly exclusive miniature subscription service. It is an alternate sculpt for their Swamp Horror, a Minion warbeast. Now, when one starts thinking of models that Privateer Press can do pin-up alternate sculpts of, the Swamp Horror is not one that comes to mind. However, they hit it out of the pot with this sculpt. It’s a unique twist on both the original model and a mermaid, and just looks damn cool. And the little baby swamp siren in her hand, looking up at her is just so cute.

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Painting

The model is in two parts, mostly one big chunk of resin, with the left arm below the elbow being a metal piece. I pinned mine just to be sure, because there isn’t that much surface area at the contact point, though you may not need to.

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The model itself has three or four main surfaces: The skin, the chitin, the tentacles, and perhaps the webbing between the tentacles. This means that you have multiple distinct textures to work with, and it’s worth taking some time to think about colour choices. While you want these areas to be distinct, you also don’t want them to clash. I decided to stick to mostly pink and purple, but have the skin be in a pale blue-green, similar to the studio scheme.

When it came to painting the tentacles, I decided to start with a textured pattern and paint with thin glazes to add colour. So, after priming the model white, I began by drawing in a pattern of black lines, then followed up with some pink and purple glazes until I got something that I liked. The other thing I did to show texture was adding light lines to the chitin to make it look a little more boney. While I initially did it in purple, I hit it with a blue glaze afterwards.

Water Effects

And here is where I start to get ambitious. I picked up some of the Woodland Scenics Deep Pour water as well as a bottle of tint because I had a vision for a water pour. You will note that I used a square base for her; this sort of think is probably possible with a round base and that was my first idea, however someone mentioned to me that I would have to be concerned about the refraction obscuring the underwater parts.

So, I started by doing a little test and encasing a crappy prepainted heroclix guy in the deep pour water in a McDonald’s cup. This was definitely a good idea, as it showed me how much tint to use to get the desired level of tint in the water, as well as the importance of sealing the base in order to avoid bubbles as air escapes from porous materials.

After his noble sacrifice, I began making some formwork out of plasticard and P3 blister packs. With that done, I mixed up some of the stuff and did my pour, careful to pour it to the level of her hand.

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oh god, it’s horrible

That’s where things started to go wrong.

 

I had thought that I had sealed the base sufficiently with multiple layers of gloss varnish, but evidently, I was wrong. There were some small areas near the base where bubbles started to appear, and as much as I tried to knock the base of the mini to agitate them to the surface where they could be popped, there were some that formed when the resin was sufficiently cured to the point where it was just to viscous for it to make it to the surface.

Of course, I didn’t help it by trying to poke it with a very thin brass rod to try to pop some bubbles that were still underwater. And then, on top of that, one of the corners of the forms started leaking, leaving one of the corners completely messed up.

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So, it came time to fix what I could. The bubbles were unfixable, but I could at least deal with the issues on the corners. I mixed up a little more of the water effects, and poured it into the cavity where I had my leak. After waiting for that to dry and prying the formwork off, I turned it on its side and made some smaller forms to tackle the other bubbles in the corners. I’d pour the mixture into cavities where bubbles had formed, relying on a piece of plastic to keep it from running off the side.

To get this all working together and looking good, this required a lot of elbow grease with the sandpaper, cloth, and polishing compound. Finally, I hit the whole thing with gloss varnish through the airbrush to smooth it all out and give the impression of the wet swamp siren glistening in the sunlight. I had managed to fix the bubbles on the edges, but the bubbles on the inside were still bothering me.

Miniature Paintings

IMG_0761.JPGBecause I decided that I wasn’t being ambitious enough with the goal of doing water effects for the first time on a competition and display piece, I decided to try out a whole new art form. I cut out a piece of packaging, primed it black, and decided to make a miniature painting of a swamp to go with my painted miniature.

IMG_0762.JPGFortunately, I had google image search to work off of, and I had watched enough Bob Ross over the past little while that I thought that I could do

it. I found a picture of a swamp at dusk and decided to go for it, starting with the sky and the water, then following up with the trees on the horizon and their reflection, and finally the trees in the foreground, making sure to highlight the side closer to the sun. With that done, I took bright green and carefully drew in some lettering, and glued the whole thing to the side.

Happy Little Accidents

So, at the end of the day, I wasn’t feeling great about this miniature. The bubbles were annoying the hell out of me, because they represented where I screwed up with the water effects and they were something that I couldn’t fix. However, I decided to post some pictures up on facebook anyways, and you can imagine what the response was:

“Those bubbles are so amazing!”
“How did you do the bubbles?”
“I love those bubbles!”

And so on.

It was really an interesting experience. I was very much being my own harshest critic on this, but even though I kind of started to hate it a little as I looked at all the little imperfections in the water effects, it turned out that people loved my mistake.

And, with this feedback in mind, it helped me be at peace with my work and learn to love the bubbles that had so infuriated me when I first finished it. I would say the two things I have learned from this are that first, Bob Ross was right when he said that there are no mistakes, only happy little accidents. Second, being “too ambitious” in this hobby isn’t really a thing. Now, I definitely got some benefits out of testing it out first with that little HeroClix guy in the McDonald’s cup, but it is because I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone and yes, made a couple happy little accidents along the way, that I came up with something really special.

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Baselog: Sexy Gorman

That’s a title that I never thought I would write.

Anyways, recently I finished up my first Privateer Pres model designed solely for display and not gaming purposes. For this undertaking, I figured I should go big or go home, so I chose the “di Wulfe in Sheep’s Clothing” VIP model from MiniCrate.

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Studio scheme

To be honest, I wasn’t really jazzed about this model when it was first announced. While I like what Privateer Press is doing with some of their mini-crate models in doing the gender-bending alternate sculpts, I just wasn’t crazy about the idea of a model wearing a sheep onesie based on a mediocre pun. However, once I got the model in the mail, she really grew on me. The sculpt quality is great, with a lot of crisp details and an excellent job on the facial features, and there weren’t a lot of mold lines to clean up. Further, the whimsical nature of the sheep onesie was something that I only began to appreciate once I saw it in person.

Of course, it is well documented that when presented with a studio scheme, my youthful anarchist tendencies tend to come out and I immediately decide to do something else with the model other than following the directions laid out by studio painters. This was no exception; my black sheep tendencies meant that I decided to go with a black sheep instead of a white one, as well as make a lot of the leather bits and straps that comprise the rest of her clothing black and shiny like my Zerkova2 rather than brown or grey.

That said, this article isn’t so much about the painting of the figure, because a lot of the techniques I used on her are things that I have been practicing lately for this purpose, and which I have covered in previous articles. This article is going to be all about that base. Specifically, the display plinth that I had made up for this project.

Quick Safety PSA: My process for this project involved a lot of cutting, filing, and sanding of resin pieces. Resin dust which is produced from these processes is nasty stuff, and you really don’t want it to get into your lungs. We want to be painting miniatures for a while, so make sure to take appropriate precautions for dust control and protecting your lungs.

So, once I decided that I was going to make this a display quality mini on a nice plinth, a couple considerations came to mind. First, I knew I didn’t want to go with a wooden plinth, because I just didn’t think it would go well with the steampunk aesthetic of Warmachine. Second, I started thinking about composition. I knew I didn’t want to just have her standing on a perfectly flat piece of ground, so I wanted some variation in elevation on the top surface. I also wanted to incorporate multiple textures, so I eventually settled on a vision of her standing on a sloping surface with some rock behind her.

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The first step…

Anyways, after browsing the internet for a little while, I settled on a 40mm square plinth from Dark Messiah Bases. These are black resin plinths that come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and have a nice, sleek, modern look which is a great start for a display miniature project, even if you don’t do a lot to them.

Of course, I’m interested in taking it to the next level, so I’m going to do some stuff to it. First, I took my jeweler’s saw and cut away a little piece on the front, just because for this project, I wanted to have it sloping slightly forward. Next, I created the rock formations out of bark chips. After cutting them to size, I drilled into them and pinned them to the base with some brass rod and plenty of gel super glue, just to make sure they would stay on nicely.

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Milliput sculpting

Next, it was time for some sculpting. I chose Milliput as my sculpting medium, because (spoiler alert) I knew I was going to do a lot of filing and sanding, and milliput works a lot better for that sort of thing than something like green stuff. I sculpted the slope of the ground in milliput, then added some in areas of the rock face where it needed a little filling out. I also made sure to sculpt outwards from the top of the base a little, because I wanted to carry the flat, vertical surface of the sides of the plinth upwards as though this base is a perfectly square cutout of the surrounding groundwork.

From there, it was a matter of filing and sanding the sides flat. Starting with a big old hand file and progressing to a sanding block with some very fine sandpaper, I took it down to a flat surface.

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Sanded flat

With the sculpting done, I primed the whole thing black, then used the airbrush to give it a coat of the straight black acrylic hobby paint of my choice. The rationale behind the coat of regular paint over the primer was just in case I needed to do any touch ups at the end; I wanted to make sure the black paint I used for the touchup matched the surrounding area.

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After the basic profile of the groundwork was applied, it was time to add some texture to the ground area. Some people glue sand or other grit down, but I like to use textured artist mediums. It’s probably a matter of personal opinion, but I find these to be a lot more convenient than using glue and grit as they are easier to apply and I don’t have to clean loose sand out of my apartment when I’m done. Further, you can mix some cheap craft paint straight into the medium and save yourself a step in painting that sand up.

I applied a quick dark grey basecoat to the rocks, and from there, it’s a matter of applying washes, dry-brushing, and perhaps a hint of dry pigments until you get something you are happy with. I like to give everything a dark wash and then work everything up with browns and greys and tans. Applying some dry pigments in a controlled manner can also help add just that little touch of colour variation to grey rocks and generate a bit of visual interest, which is a trick I touched on before but might write something focusing on it soon.

After attaching the model to the base, we need to add vegetation. This could be a whole article in itself, but throw on a bit of flock, static grass, tufts, and leaves, and you’ll end up with some nice finishing touches on your base.

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The finished project

Finally, I made up a little sign for the front just to take the whimsical, punnish theme home. I started out by cutting out a piece of plastic from a Privateer Press blister pack and doing a little sanding on the edges and roughened up the surface that was going to be the back a little. After priming it white, I took out my airbrush and a few different off-white colours in various shades of bone, ivory, light khaki, etc. I airbrushed a nice smooth base coat with one of them, then followed up with the others, putting a couple drops through the airbrush (with a drop of an appropriate thinner, of course), not bothering to clean out the airbrush between colours and just randomly spraying some patterns on. These slightly different colours are going to be a base for the sort of aged, uneven look that I’m going for with the sign.

Once I was happy with that, I cleaned out the airbrush, turned the pressure way down (into the single-digits), and pulled out some Scale75 Intense Wood ink. Aside from having quite possibly the funniest paint name in my collection (get it? because wood…), this colour, as its name applies, works really well to help create a realistic wood effect. In this case, what I did was drop some of it in my airbrush and shoot it onto the target at a very low pressure, which, similar to a wood stain, went on like a glaze and shifted the colour of the underlying material into a nice woody tone. Again, I wasn’t going for an even coat; I wanted to get some colour variation, so I sprayed it on in a sort of random pattern, varying the amount on any given point to get dark and light spots.

Finally, I shot it the sign with a quick spray of dullcote, as the Scale75 inks dry a little glossy when applied as a glaze. With the shine gone, I used freehand techniques to draw the skull and write on the sign. Here, I wasn’t too concerned with making the lettering perfect; I wanted the sign to have a sort of hand-drawn look as though it might be something spray painted on a wall by a graffiti artist.

From there, we can just glue the sign on and we’re done! With this neat display plinth, I’m looking forward to bringing her out to painting competitions as well as putting her in a place of pride on my shelf.